DINING OUT:

I have to admit that I am not ready to host my own travel and food show just yet. Over dinner a few weeks ago, my cousin Ron and I were discussing all the different types of foods I have tried and restaurants that I have reviewed. We came to the subject of Thai food. Much to my chagrin, I had to confess that I have some preconceived notions about this cuisine despite the fact I have never tried it. Fortunately, Chadaka Thai proved that you cannot judge a cuisine by rumors of impending heartburn.

Thai food is known for its balance of five basic flavors — spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter. These flavors are found all in one dish or throughout an entire meal. Most people believe that all Thai dishes are spicy. That is partly true. The cuisine is known for its liberal use of fresh herbs, a variety of spices and chilies.

Chadaka Thai has an elegant interior dominated by modern Asian influences. You walk into a palette of deep brown, black and off-white offset by the almost glowing liquor bottles against the bar along the far wall. The restaurant itself is a long corridor with booths lining the walls on either side. Tables and chairs are set in a precise arrangement that fills in almost every inch of available space.

On my first visit, I arrived late in the afternoon so I decided to try a different approach. Rather than order an entree, I chose a selection of small bites or appetizers. Although there are more than a dozen choices at Chadaka Thai, I found that certain ingredients, especially shrimp, appeared in almost every one. When I asked if I could have the straw noodles without the shrimp, I was told it was impossible to make any changes in the small bite menu.

My favorite small bite was the fried calamari with garlic-cilantro wine sauce. The calamari was crispy in more of a tempura batter, and the calamari inside was tender and sweet. I also enjoyed the steamed wonton bundles served with what was described as a spicy soy dipping sauce, but I found it very mild. If you want spicy hot, go for the curry dumplings made with shrimp and scallops and served with a green curry sauce.

Honorable mention goes to the chicken sate that had a hint of the sweet coconut marinade. The peanut dipping sauce had the perfect balance of sweet and salty that makes you double-dip without even realizing it.

The small bites were served in typical appetizer-size portions. After sampling a few, I felt like I had enjoyed a light lunch. Be warned that if you go this route, it could wind up in the end costing just as much as an entree if not more.

On my second visit to Chadaka Thai, my friends and I arrived for a late dinner. This time, despite the hundred-degree temperatures outside, I decided to start with a bowl of Thailand’s famous Tom Yum soup made with tofu. You can also order it with chicken or shrimp. This hot and sour soup had plenty of tofu and mushrooms in a rich broth. Another great soup is the spinach wonton soup with chicken and shrimp dumplings.

The main menu has more than just your average Thai classics. Chadaka Thai prides itself on seasonal specials combined with favorite Thai dishes. While you may not find barbecue chicken, fried catfish, or New Zealand lamb chops on most Thai menus, do not think for a minute that Chadaka Thai has forgotten its culinary specialty. The chicken is marinated in yellow bean soy sauce and Thai pepper powder. The catfish is topped with red chili paste and the lamb chops are marinated in crushed peanuts and soya bean sauce.

Of course, Chadaka Thai also serves classic Thai dishes. There are a few curry entrees but I found the Kiew Wan the most diverse in flavor. We had the pork Kiew Wan simmered in coconut milk with Thai herbs, green chili paste, eggplant, bamboo shoots and red jalapeños. I admit, the room seemed much warmer after a few bites.

The fried rice dishes were similar to ones you might find in any Asian restaurant. Still, I found that both the Thai fried rice sautéed with onions and tomatoes and the vegetarian fried rice packed with cabbage, peas, broccoli, tomatoes and tofu balanced the spicy and rich entrees.

My new favorite dish is Pad Thai. This is Thailand’s most well-known entree. Slim rice noodles, shrimp, chicken, eggs, green onions, bean sprouts, tofu and peanuts are sautéed together to make an ideal main entree. Both sweet and savory flavors are balanced with the soft texture of the noodles and shrimp and the crispy bean sprouts.

For my first culinary adventure into this new cuisine, I have to say that Chadaka Thai delivered delicious, well-prepared food in a hip atmosphere with attentive service. I still had a little heartburn after that curry dish, but I admit, I still have a lot to learn. Of course, even Rachel Ray was once just the girl next door.


 CHRISTINE PUTNAM is a freelance writer. Her first book, “But the President Wants Meatloaf!” is available for purchase at www.buybookson theweb.com. For more information, visit www.christineputnam.com.

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